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Friends Remember Officer Stephen T. Johns

Reyna S. Walters | 6/18/2009, 1:04 a.m.

Co-workers and friends fondly remembered Stephen T. Johns last week as a devoted husband and father and a prankster with a great sense of humor. Johns was gunned down Wed., June 10, while on-duty as a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Southwest by an avowed White supremacist.

Johns, 39, worked for the Wackenhut Corporation since 2003. The Florida-based company provides security services for the popular landmark at 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place. Despite the somber tone of the museum, a national institution for the documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history, which has long been considered a high target for attacks, Johns€ jovial demeanor, big smile, and sense of humor cheered-up those around him.

The tight-knit group of security guards who work at the museum said that they would often meet for dinner and celebrate one another€s birthdays.

€Every chance we got, we would have cook-outs and gatherings at people€s houses,€ said Offc. Clarence Hawthorne, 37, a friend and former Wackenhut employee who left the company earlier this year. €Even though Johns had a family, he also had his Wackenhut family,€ Hawthorne said.

Johns, of Temple Hills, Md., was shot at approximately 12:40 p.m., last Wednesday, when James W. von Brunn, 88, of Annapolis, Md. walked through the doorway of the museum and opened fire with a .22 caliber rifle hitting Johns before security guards fired back at the assailant. Johns was rushed to George Washington University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Described by friends as an €extremely personable€ individual, Johns opened the door for the elderly man who killed him. Fellow guards at the museum spoke highly of Johns and his impact on their lives.

Offc. Valerie Parrish said that Johns was a surrogate big brother to her. The two met in May 2003 when they were both assigned to the same orientation class.

€I was like his little sister. He put me under his wing. He wanted to protect me and make sure that I was okay,€ Parrish said.

€The first thing I saw was that big smile,€ Parrish recalled.

Offc. Tony Basil, 45, met Johns two years ago. The two men did not live far from one another and would ride the same Metro line home in the evenings, Basil said.

€We would hang out a little bit after work before going home. We would talk about everything,€ he said.

Thanks to Johns, Basil recently attended his first baseball game.

€Tony, want to go to the game?€ Johns asked one evening on the way home from work. €We didn€t have any plans to do that,€ Basil recalled. €But, we made up our minds at the last minute. We were like two little kids having fun. He was spontaneous. He liked adventure.€

Offc. Sterling Russell, 31, met Johns in 2003. At that time, Russell said that he was also in a Go-Go band and remembered that Johns would come out for his performances.

€Our main connection was the music,€ Russell said. The two became friends and Johns asked Russell to be in his wedding.

€Steve was humble. He was always smiling. I never saw him get mad in the six years I€ve known him,€ Russell said.

Johns was known for his quick wit and funny quips. Hawthorne recalled a time when Johns came in 15 minutes late for a meeting.

€You would think that someone that late would keep a low profile. Not Johns,€ Hawthorne said laughing. Hawthorne said Johns strutted into the room, boldly looked at everyone and said €I don€t know what you all are looking at, I€m on time.€ The entire room burst into laughter, Hawthorne said.

Johns was also remembered as being dedicated to his family. A fund has been established for the benefit of Johns€ family. €He not only was a good officer, but a good family man as well,€ Hawthorne said. €Johns loved his wife from the first moment he met her. He would talk about her all of the time,€ Hawthorne said.

€My best memory was [Johns€] wedding day. To see him and his wife so happy made me happy,€ Parrish said.

Despite Johns€ giant frame, his colleagues all said that he was a gentle, soft-spoken and humble man. €He was intimidating looking. But, once you got past the looks, he was one remarkable guy. If you never spoke the word love before, you€d have to use it to describe this man. I love him like a brother,€ Basil said.

Hawthorne is still coping with the death of his friend. €I still can€t believe he€s gone. He was like the Gerald Levert of security. Everybody loved him. He was one big teddy bear,€ Hawthorne said.

Funeral services will be held on Fri., June 19 at Ebenezer AME Church, 7707 Allentown Road in Fort Washington, Md. The viewing is at 9 a.m. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m.